Review: North American Arms PUG

NAA Pug revolver right

I should start this report with a disclaimer. The North American Arms PUG isn’t my idea of a defensive handgun. But then, it is a well made revolver that never gives trouble, and that means a lot. There are folks that simply cannot be convinced to carry a larger handgun, and something is better than nothing. Many people would have loved to have had a .22 magnum revolver handy when attacked. It is better than tooth and nail.

4 .22 caliber revolvers
The light .22 revolver is an American icon. The yellow handled revolver is the first American cartridge revolver, the Smith and Wesson No. 1, a seven-shot .22 revolver.

As for myself, the PUG makes a fair second carry gun and a fine third gun. It is affordable, which isn’t true of many of the better type of defensive handguns, yet I would put North American quality at the top of the heap. There is a tremendous demand for handguns that may be concealed in the pocket. A small handgun carries the problem of high recoil and poor accuracy, not to mention engineering obstacles. North American Arms has created a niche market all their own, replacing the once common derringers. The five-shot, .22 magnum revolver is easier to use well than any derringer, and makes much more sense.

The PUG is the lightest and the most modern in appearance. There are a number of variations, some with longer and shorter barrels, and different grips. I have fired a .22 LR and .22 magnum NAA revolvers, and this one has the best performance for personal defense I have yet seen. The PUG features a five-shot, fluted chamber with recessed cylinders for safety, in case of a blown case head, and also to increase reliable operation as the cylinder rotates, and a 1-inch barrel. This one also features barrel ports.

The design goal of the NAA mini revolver seems to be make it light weight. The pistol weighs but 6.2 ounces. It is 4.5 inches long, and it is only 3 inches tall. You can stash this revolver just about anywhere, and that is pretty important.

Loaded cylinder from a NAA PUG revolver
Be certain that the hammer nose is locked into the safety notches, located in the spaces between the chambers.

The PUG is a single action design. That means the hammer must be cocked for every trigger press. This is a simple action, and the hammer is large enough for plenty of purchase for manipulation.

The first challenge is loading the revolver. The cylinder must be removed from the frame for loading. There is a lock on the barrel underlug that is rotated to move forward, freeing the base pin. The cylinder is then pressed out from the frame. The cartridges are loaded in the cylinder. Replace the cylinder in the frame and replace the base pin.

It is very important that you keep your fingers from the around the muzzle. The hammer is down, to be certain, but muzzle discipline demands the finger be away from any handgun’s muzzle at all times. When you are firing the PUG, also be certain that the fingers do not drift toward the muzzle.

Quite a bit of practice in handling any firearm is demanded before deploying it for personal defense. I find practice sessions are limited to twenty cartridges or so, due to the slow loading process. This isn’t a revolver that will be much more accurate the more you practice, but what accuracy it has a trained shooter may make the most of.

5-shot group on a paper target
This is a rapid, 5 shot group at a few feet.

Be certain not to allow the hammer to rest on a loaded cylinder. This could result in a discharge, if the revolver is dropped or the hammer struck. The hammer nose must be lowered into a safety notch, located between the cylinders of the revolver. Always follow this program. The hammer is moved slightly to the rear and the cylinder rotated enough to properly line up the hammer nose and the safety slot. This is a safe, strong system.

I really like the PUG’s grip. In my opinion, it is superior to anything offered by NAA on other revolvers. The synthetic grip offers plenty of adhesion when firing. While recoil isn’t great, the muzzle flip is and this grip helps control the handgun. The grip is important in order to effectively keep the hand stabilized as you cock the hammer and fire the revolver. This PUG doesn’t have a trigger guard as none is needed. It will only fire if the hammer is cocked and the trigger pressed.

Finally, the revolver features some of the best sights I have seen on a small handgun. Small handguns need good sights even more so than larger handguns, as the short sight radius invites misalignment. The NAA PUG features express type sights intended for fast work at close range.

Bob Campbell shooting a .22 lr revolver
Surprisingly good results were had with this diminutive revolver.

I began my test fire with Fiocchi’s 40-grain JHP. I placed the target at five yards and fired five shots as quickly as I could manipulate the hammer and trigger. I put all five into four inches. Frankly, I was surprised. The PUG sights and grip really make a difference in performance. The 1-inch barrel generated 830 fps. I have clocked the Fiocchi load at 1,000 fps from the longer barrel NAA revolvers, so there is a price for compactness.

Hornady’s 45-grain Critical Defense load exhibited 844 fps. After firing at 5 yards I stepped back to the 15 yard line. This is substantial for the PUG, but I elected to try the shot. I aimed for center mass, and after firing three rounds, I found only one on target near the head. I reloaded and fired again, this time aiming for the belt buckle region. This time all three bullets impacted in the center region in a group about 5-inches wide. Knowing what I know about small handguns, this is impressive. At close range the sights are well regulated. Muzzle flip takes its toll at the longer and improbable ten-yard range and beyond.

The .22 magnum cartridge has advantages over the .25 ACP in penetration and velocity. The NAA PUG is reliable and may be fired accurately enough to strike man-sized targets at close range. Any handgun is sufficient for a threat, and the NAA PUG offers more power than a .22 long rifle or .25 ACP cartridge. The PUG is something and that is much better than nothing.

What’s your favorite back-up gun (BUG)? Share your answer in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (21)

  1. Great article. Can you possibly direct me to the original photo of the s&w no 1 in your article? Would like very much to use it for wallpaper on my iPadPro. Thanks for any help.

  2. I bought a black widow with the folding grip just for an extra option but I took the grip off and carry it in my pocket.

  3. George – sorry you had that happen. I’ve carried NAA 22 and 22 Mag since 1977, in all forms, fashion, work, exercise, rough country you name it. NEVER happened to me, not even close.

  4. I have two of these little darlings a sidewinder and a standard 22wmr both have their place after market grips make a world of difference.

  5. Considering that the Pug is the short barreled member in the Blackwidow series, I installed the larger Black Widow grip. It makes the gun much more controllable with no real impact on concealability. I carry in the front pocket in a custom holster. It’s as natural as grabbing your keys and wallet.

  6. I’m a large man 6’9” I have two of these in 22 mag. Even though I have very large hands I have no trouble shooting and holding these guns even with the slick handles. It took a little bit too get used to being small. Great little gun for concealed carry. I wish I could carry a 45 every were I go but that’s not Feasible. I can carry my 22 mag and no one ever me thats the only way to carry a gun that no one can ever tell that you have it. There are no tell sings that you have it like some larger

  7. This goes with me always.
    Yes, i’ve noticed keyholes, mainly with the optional LR cylinder and bullets. 25 ft can get 3 inch groupings. It takes a while to get the hang of this gun, once there it’s pretty sweet. For the novice, I’d consider their new flip open .22, and the safety is still a little tricky.
    I carry the trusty 1911 when I feel more exposed.

  8. A very dangerous pocket gun because the hammer can cam up and off the safety slot between cylinders during normal carry movement over the top of a live round. Then if the gun falls out of your pocket like it did me and lands on the exposed hammer, the bullet will fire missing you by inches just like me. Ill never carry one again.

  9. when you shoot out of a 1″ barrel with rifle rounds instead of short barrel rounds like Gold Dots, you sometime do get keyholing. The solution is to use lighter bullets or rounds made for handguns. CCI maxi Mag 40 grains did that in mine. The light CCI HP+v 30 grains do not, neither do the Gold dots or Hornady’s . I suspect it is the unburned powder coming out of the barrel with the bullet that causes the disruption.

  10. I like that you did a review on the small mini revolvers. I carry a black Widow not the Pug. The slightly larger griips and the extra in in the barrel make it IMHO a better gun in 22 mag. When they are this small I will take all the help I can muster and the BW does that. They are both guns you can carry anywhere that it is legal in all weather.The Tritium sights on the Pug would be nice if they I could get them to fit mine.Great little guns!

  11. North American Arms advertises the min-revolver as the gun you carry, when you can’t carry a gun. I found through personal experience this to be true. Three years ago I had knee replacement surgery. Both knees but one at a time. This put recovery and painful rehab for almost a year. During that time Jim shorts or light workout pants is all I could wear. I had a mini-revolver for several years but hadn’t though much about it, until it was all I could carry. I was thankful I had it and with regular practice, it proved to be more accurate than I thought it would be. It has the folding grip, which makes it even smaller, while also gives a much larger grip and helps with the accuracy and rapid fire. At home I carry it in my pocket all day, no matter what i’m wearing. I answer the door armed and nobody knows it. It’s the ultimate hide out gun.

  12. I have the Sidewinder with 1.5″ barrel and a Laserlyte grip in .22 WMR. Don’t think they make that anymore, but love mine. I keep a Kimber .45 in my car, HK’s in my house, but the NAA mini-revolver goes with me everywhere, right in my jacket of vest pocket. I also love the safety cylinder feature.

  13. I like this gun a lot. It’s quality made and very good at what it’s designed for. It calls for derringer tactics and will never be good at long range; putting lots of do dads on it and shooting it at beyond arms length misses the point (pun intended) of it. Think tense situation at a faro card game in the old west, not “shooter ready…standby…”.

  14. The first thing I did after buying the NAA that had a ported barrel of about one inch long, was to buy the laser pointer that was built to install on the little 22 Mag. The laser “on” switch was able to be changed to be “off” while in the 6 o’clock position. So when you go to thumb the hammer back, your thumb flips the laser on. This laser is hard to see in bright light, but in darker times, or places, the laser makes this tiny gun very deadly. I would not leave the house without it!

  15. This article is spot on. A friend told me he was once patted down after being pulled over and his CCP had expired. He had a NAA 22mag on him and forgot until after being asked about it. It wasn’t found in the search. He probably had layers of clothes on and didn’t smell great but I was still impressed.
    I only carry legally and I never keep a round chambered. Therefore I like wheel guns better than semi’s because I can advance a round in my pocket virtually undetected and unheard, ready to draw and fire as long as it’s not a hammerless. The drawback is one round less. I prefer the safety factor. Semi’s require two hands and usually visible chambering not to mention wheel guns are just more reliable due to simplicity. Don’t get me wrong. I love semi’s.
    After a little research I decided the Pug looked like the model of 22mag to carry when I want bare minimum. Hot summer days with shorts and sandals don’t make for concealing a Mossberg Shockwave if you know what I’m saying.
    It takes up about as much space in my pocket as a set of keys both by feel and visibility. Surprisingly, the pistol had relatively no kick. I expected a sore wrist but as the author noted about the slow reloading, you’ll get sick of reloading long before you get wrist pain. Even with aftermarket ‘speed loaders’ you are not going to load this gun with ‘speed’ compared to a S&W or the like. With practice you might be able to reload in under a minute. With practice.
    The revolver is a very solid gun. Simple and solid. The author’s report on its accuracy sounds about right to me. I’ve never handled or shot the smaller/wood grip models but I definitely recommend the oversize rubber grips and always having it in a small pocket holster. On top of that if you carry in pocket, I think it wise to carry nothing else in THAT pocket. I rate this article 5 out of 5 stars. *****

    1. Nope, I’ve owned 2 naa, one a 22lr and the other a pug in 22mag. Both shot keyholes. If you go to NAA forum and do a search it’s fairly common. Some have reported the had no or very limited riffling in the barrels, others say it’s a bad crown or crude builds up.

    2. Merle,
      I have an older revolver with the interchangeable cylinders, .22 mag and .22 long rifle,1.25 inch barrel. I get 6 inch groups at 5 yards with an occasional keyhole. Even with Hornady Critical Defense an occasional keyhole. With a 40 grain screaming at magnum velocities and keyhole, this will make a nasty wound. I grew up shooting magnums so this little revolver doesn’t have “recoil” at least that I notice. When I first purchased the revolver I tried 25 yards not too good, but up close and personal works great.

  16. I tried one of these ONCE. A friend invited me to try his at the range. I took what I thought was a good hold on it, cocked the hammer and at the last minute, tried to get a better grip before firing. Instead of a better grip, I dropped it! Cocked and no trigger guard! It seemed to take forever falling and I just knew it was going to fire and hit somebody. My guardian angel must have been watching – nothing happened. I carefully picked it up, lowered the hammer and gave it right back to my friend. To be honest, this one had smooth wood grips, not synthetic ones like the one in this article. Maybe NAA found out small slippery grips were a bad idea!

  17. The gun I carry most frequently for backup is the NAA Black Widow in 22 mag with 2″ bbl. I replaced the cylinder pin with the laser arrangement. Sweet ! It’s on right out of the box and at 15-20 ft, no worries. I’m completely comfortable with this gun in the IWB that NAA sells, or in a pocket, but I’m considering the holster type that lies horizontal at beltline, such as that put out by Bond Arms for their derringers. In certain situations i have no problem carrying just the Black Widow as i have confidence in the gun, my ability with it after considerable practice, and Hornady ammo.

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